My blogs, seem to refer to art being good for you quite a lot.
Drawing from observation uses both sides of the brain.
Drawing as an activity is calming and contemplative, and can lower blood pressure and reduce stress.
Drawing can develop and enhance our appreciation of our surroundings.
So, I dare you to come and draw with me! You'll have a super time.
I have always adored going to galleries and having a nice mooch about. All through my student days I haunted the National and the Tate, sketchbook in hand, for hours on end. Galleries, whilst attracting huge numbers of visitors, are so vast that you can still find a moment of peace and calm right in the centre of the hustle and bustle of London
During my many years as a teacher, I took students to a variety of galleries including the Uffizzi in Florence and the Dali museum in Figueras. During these trips I always wanted to encourage a life long love of art. I wanted to develop the confidence required to draw in public without worrying, and a feeling that the galleries of the world belong to us all. They aren't just for the elites and the show-offs. But beautiful artwork can be enjoyed by everyone.
So on Wednesday, I decided to give myself a birthday treat and I went to the Michelangelo & Sebastiano exhibition at the National gallery.
With some trepidation and heart full of excitement I went in.
To be frank I got a bit emotional about it all. Michelangelo has that effect on me. Always has.
The initial impact was "Wow".
I'm lucky enough to have seen the vast majority is of Michaelangelo's work in Italy and beyond but there are still some serious gems in this exhibition.
The exhibition itself explores the relationship between heavyweight Michaelangelo and the lesser known Venetian Sebastiano.
There are a whole series of letters between Sebastiano and Michaelangelo - it is very interesting to see the references to the papacy and indeed to Michaelangelo's arch rival Raphael. At first it might seem that Michaelangelo's collaboration with Sebastiano is almost entirely about rivalling Rapheal. One of Sebastiano's letters even references Rapheal's death - "My dearest compare, I believe you have heard poor Rapheal of Urbino has died, something that you must soon be very sorry about, may God forgive him".
Forgive him for what? The story goes that Raphael died, aged 37 from sexual exhaustion! Though this has yet to be fully proven. However his death did provide Michaelangelo with an opportunity to pursue further commissions from the papacy and to recommend his friend Sebastiano.
Unlike Michelangelo, Sebastiano was an oil painter. I believe that his luminescence and beautiful use of colour had been hugely influenced by Michaelangelo's frescoes.
One room largely focused on the Pieta (literally meaning 'pity' and referring to Mary holding Christ's dead body) there is a cast of Michaelangelo's Pieta. Whilst it's not quite the same as seeing the original, you simply can't get close to the original in St Peter's (Rome) so being up close and personal to this cast is great. It was a super opportunity to really see how it's been constructed.
At the opposite end of the Pieta room is Sebastiano's Pieta - a huge oil painting, as Mary looks up to the heavens lamenting the death of her son. What is really interesting is that the back of Sebastiano's Pieta is also visible. And you can see the sketches that both artists drew on the back of the wooden panel. This suggests that perhaps Michaelangelo had allowed Sebastiano to share his studio for a time. The sketches also show the start of some figures later appear on Michaelangelo's Sistine ceiling.
Throughout the exhibition there are many drawings from both artists. Some you may have already seen in the British Museum but there are others from Frankfurt, from Washington, and several from the Queen's own collection.
They are exquisite, delicate, beautiful and I spent much of my time studying them.
My "weak at the knees moment" was the room with the Risen Christ. One statue is an original by Michelangelo which he abandoned due to finding a black vein on Christ's face. I rather liked the black marble vein. It added to the drama. I sat and drew this for some time. The other Statue in this room is a cast of a second risen Christ created by Michelangelo, the juxtaposition of the two statues is extraordinary; one pose is contrapposto like Michelangelo's David the other dynamic. It's interesting to look at both of them; make your own mind up as to which is the better.
As if all this isn't enough, there is a huge 3D recreation of the Borgherini chapel, executed by Sebastiano with some preliminary drawings by Michelangelo. It is, quite simply, breath taking.
By the end of the exhibition I felt it had raised a few questions for me.
It appears at first sight that Sebastiano had learnt great deal from Michaelangelo. He learned about light, colour, successful rendering of twisted figures. Yet Michaelangelo seems to have learnt a lot less from Sebastiano, most notably he didn't learn to oil paint. Was this that Michaelangelo stubbornly did not want to learn how to oil paint? I won't spoil the end of their story, nor the end of the exhibition, but you'll leave with some interesting ideas about the answer!
The exhibition continues until 25th June and I can heartily recommend the visit.
It's all too tempting, to click your way to re-stocking your studio.
But few pleasures compare to walking into a bonafide independent art shop. Seeing all those gorgeous materials laid out before you and getting excited about what you’re going to take home.
I’ve been chatting to Sharon Noble of Noble Art supplies in Salisbury and I’ve got 10 reasons why you should go shopping there.
1. You get to speak to a real expert!
Online there's no help or advice.
Sharon is experienced and can help her customers. "After the closure of Compleat Artist Salisbury was left with a gap and as there was still an obvious customer base still present I thought I didn't want to waste nearly 18 years in art retail and everything I had learnt about materials". And thus, Noble Art supplies was born.
2. You can do a custom order.
With accounts with the main suppliers and also 2 good wholesale companies, Noble arts are happy to order in special items for you. From canvas to paint, from pencils to brushes.
3. Get up close and personal with texture.
Sharon and I are agreed, there's nothing better than finding a good brush. Nothing compares to selecting that brush in real life!
4. You can browse while making up your mind!
Browsing online is nothing like as much fun! There's been a lot of fuss in the news about an independent book seller in Yorkshire charging people to browse. But Sharon tells me "I am happy for customers to browse. Also someone browsing is a potential future customer". So relax and enjoy yourself!
5. It's a chance to see just how many colours there are in the world! Walking into an art shop is walking into an Aladdin's cave of colour. Take your time and choose well!
6. It's a joy. a social event!
You'll find like minded people. You'll be able to discuss techniques. Art materials are tactile it's great to see the products you are buying
7. Keep your Highstreet vibrant and full of luscious shops!
There's a campaign called just a card which was started based on a gallery "If everyone who walked into our gallery and said it was beautiful had bought just a card- we'd still be open" So, what can we do to make sure Salisbury keeps it only specialist art shop open? The answer to this is simple; shop local!
8. It's a great place to dream! You can imagine your next masterpiece, you can picture the colour palette you'll use. You can plan. You can buy exactly what you need, nothing more.
9. You'll have access to local knowledge.
Sharon knows many of the Salisbury artists and the classes they teach. If you want to find out more about the art scene, she'll more than likely know what's going on. In addition, Plain Arts Salisbury members get a 10% discount!
10. Get some inspiration.
From the shop window displays, the array of paints, brushes and materials and the inspiring people who work and shop there, you're bound to see something that will get your creative juices flowing!
See you there!
At this time of year lots of people start planning new routines to get themselves organised. Organisation is key to being successful in any business.
From years and years of being a teacher, where every second of our lesson time and indeed our free time was precious beyond belief, I have 20 years of time management and organisation skills honed to a tee.
There is a myth that creative thinkers are chaotic and disorganised… though I’ll admit that part of my need for planning and organisation has definitely stemmed from my years of being a teacher and now they are serving me well in my years of being an artist.
So here are my top three - I'm not altogether sure I’d be able to live without any of them!
I have a wall next to my desk with blackboard paper stuck on it.
This is much more practical than having a real blackboard of this size, which would be very heavy and could damage the wall or even damage me if it fell off the wall!
Blackboard paper is really easy to apply and you can get it in plenty of DIY shops or indeed a favourite online retailer! I love it!
It helps me map out my plans month by month. On my blackboard wall this month are the key areas for development for January 2017 they are:
a) my website
b) research and development which includes goal setting, marketing strategies and artistic experimentation,
c)painting- which includes planning my new collection, and
d) workshops- these can include workshops that I'm doing elsewhere for instance in Salisbury museum and indeed my own workshops that I'm doing in my studio.
2. A decent diary…
actually a decent diary and a planner, well a decent diary, a planner and then another diary; this is getting complicated.
I use a moleskin diary, a week to page with a notes on the side this really helps me coordinate arrangements, visits and meetings with other people. It's light enough to carry around with me and bung in my handbag and it's big enough for me to still put in a few plans and urgent reminders.
In addition to this I have another planner which doesn't leave my studio. It's big enough for me to write anything I need to. I use Janet Murray's media dairy, where I plan my blog posts for the year, my social media strategy and PR planning. This is quite a lot of work but it's not something that needs to travel so it's good to have a big fat chunky diary that can contain all the info.
I also have the brilliant “Your best year 2017” by Lisa Jacobs. I started using her strategies and YBY planners back in 2014 and I haven't stopped! I'm also a member of her online Luminaries club which has really helped me become accountable for my own business. Creating artwork, for me at least, is the easy part of my business. The difficult part is working out how to sell it ,when to sell, where to sell it, and who to sell it to!
To do all of those things you got to have a plan.
Any of my former students or colleagues will possibly be laughing out loud at this point or maybe even rolling their eyes. They will know that I am obsessed with mind mapping. I used to recommend mindmapping to my students particularly for revision and notetaking.
In my life as an artist I use mindmapping all the time to plan and to strategise my art business. It really helps me get all my ideas down on paper (or screen) really really quickly whilst leaving me with a great visual reminder of what I'm up to. I can plan almost anything with a mind map. From my holiday packing to a detailed written press release. I even mind map my blog posts!
So those are my big three take aways for how to get yourself organised. There is no doubt that the real secret to organisation is finding the strategy that happens to work for you.
For me visuals stimulus is key to my planning strategies…who knew!
The art of perfection or how to develop the skills that pay the bills!
In David Bayles and Ted Orland’s book “Art and fear” they cite a project of a ceramicist teacher. In the project the teacher split the class into two groups one group was told that they would be graded entirely on the quantity of pots that they produced - produce as many as you can, they whole elite will be weighted at the end of the project. The other half of the class was told that they would be graded entirely on quality. It did not matter how many pots they produced during the process, they simply had to arrive with one perfect pot at the end of the project. The results were astounding as, without exception, the students that produced the most pots, also produced the best pot. It would seem that the students in the quantity group were rapidly producing pots, failing, and learning from their mistakes, whereas the quality group was slaving over design and working out perfection without experimentation. And without feeling what failure felt like and recovering from it.
I think this experiment is so important to understand when try trying to develop your skills as a professional artist. You're not simply looking for one piece of perfection when you're creating art you have to go on a journey before that piece of perfection happens. Anyone that is put off creating art because it won't be perfect is doomed to failure and never to pick up a brush again! Those of us who are prepared to fail, those of us who are prepared to throw the campus in the bin and start all over again, those of us who are prepared to keep trying are on the road to success because eventually something good will come.
One cannot possibly sit down at the piano for the first time, having read every book on classical music, and expect to play Rachmaninov’s piano concerto Number 2 straight off. You've got to play a lot of bum notes before you're going to play that concerto!
So how do we experiment successfully? Is there such a thing as successful failure?
Looking at my own practice I think without doubt the “quantity/ quality “ experiment is evident in my work. At the beginning of the year I started daily painting. I need to be clear here I'm not necessarily painting every single day, but every working day. everyday, I sat in my studio in Salisbury, on dark January days, painting as if my life depended on it. I think this has hugely enhanced my practice. I began the year by painting little still life paintings of fruit. This might seem an odd choice as all of my larger paintings are landscapes or big colourful animals.
So what possible relevance could it be to paint some dramatically lit cherries on a small canvas?
The benefit was in the doing: learning how to set things up, learning how to create interesting composition with very simple elements, learning to mix colour accurately, learning to see colour on a plain white tablecloth where others might have simply painted it white and grey. There are so many skills involved in painting a small painting that this has helped inform my larger, more ambitious work.
This whole process has enabled me to understand my medium in even greater depth; oil paint is, in my view, a fathomless medium so understanding it is a lifelong task.
I am delighted with the work that I have been producing of late, and you might have seen some of my work on my Facebook page or on Instagram or on Twitter. But rest assured there are plenty of experiments, accidents, and a huge number of mistakes that have led to the work that I am now able to produce and publish on the Internet.
So I urge you next time you look at a piece of art don't think about how long it took, think about how many failures there were before it worked. This might encourage you to buy it or it might encourage you to get your paint brush out, either way, you’ll be on a journey to understand the skills that pay the bills.
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